“For me it’s not just about a ‘pretty accessory’ it also has to perform a solid function.”
Interview with the Dutch designer Petra Vonk
Studio Petra Vonk works with experimental knitting techniques and their applications. In co-creation with (interior) architects, her work adds a refreshing functional beauty to interior spaces. The textile applications improve not just the acoustic properties, but also contribute to a more intimate space.
One of her designs, Plectere, is a series of semi-transparent acoustic elements that create a pleasant and calming environment. We have asked her how she came up with this idea.
From fashion to interiors
After graduating from the Eindhoven Design Academy, Petra began a career in the fashion industry. It was through fashion design that she discovered her interest in in the technical aspects of the production process. “I wanted to make the best product possible for the knitting manufacturers and that often started with developing the thread. Only after that would I begin to think of the design of the actual sweater.”
In the search for a more sustainable application for all of her textile expertise and a fascination for the technical process, she made the switch from fashion to interiors. Petra explains: “It seemed like a waste of energy, all the effort of developing product that would only last for so long like a piece of clothing. I wanted instead to use more advanced techniques to design textiles with longer life spans. So, I rented a studio in Amsterdam and started to make experimental textiles geared toward interiors; with my first assignments I was just able to make rent my studio.”
I got to work on special materials and different knitting techniques, for example with wicker. This stiff material exhibited a super interesting structure with an unprecedented stability that I could never have realized with a knit. Many of these experiments ended up on the shelf as interesting ideas, but fortunately several designs were picked up by clients during a museum exhibition, exposition or open studio route.”
“At a trade show in Italy I found a yarn made from 100% wool that I could felt. I had it knit into a lace pattern and then felted it. It resulted in a strange piece of fabric with all kinds of bumps and blues; It had become a fascinating sort of 3D structure. That was new, because up until then all my designs had been 2D. The repeating pattern and the structure intrigued me enormously and resulted in my designing a whole series of structures with this wool.
We then used the thick felt sheets as acoustic panels in a commission. The 3D felt didn’t come close to the stability of the wicker, but the stiffness and structure of the braided felt was definitely a step towards the felt material from which Plectere is now made.”
The discovery of the possibilities of felt opened the way toward the elaboration of a new stable 3D knit structure. “I started knitting with the felt strips again, really simply, with a “Garter rib stitch’. Even with the most simple knit stitch, the effect was immediately phenomenal. A transparent 3D structure with great acoustic effect that could be used as room divider or as wall hanging. Plectere was born!” said Petra.
In 2016, I got my first assignment from Studio Aandacht to apply Plectere in the showroom of a Dutch furniture manufacturer. Husband and mom helped me in the living room to get the stiffer felt strips into the knitting structure. That same year, for the first time I attended a design fair with Plectere acoustic textile design.”
Plectere has since totally continued to develop in terms of design, technique and production. In her own workspace Plectere panels are made to order for the European and Dutch market. The American company Fitzfelt has acquired the license for Plectere for, among others, North America, China and Japan. The Plectere collection has been expanded into a number of variations; curved in a curve, in a wooden frame and as a round object. Recently Plectere re_play has been added to the collection, a sustainably circular acoustic element produced from Plectere leftovers or from felt from our partners.
Petra creates new concepts and applications by playing with the specific properties of materials and techniques. She experiments with repeating patterns to create intriguing transparencies in materials. Her designs have expressive, visual and tactile qualities with an emphasis on functionality, for example by improving the acoustic properties of a room. She works closely with architects, interior designers and clients, resulting in an innovative textile with a functional application.
“I use the textile experiments to intervene or add to space whether or not it has an acoustic or privacy function. So for me it’s not just about a “pretty accessory” it also has to perform a solid function.” You can divide a space that you feel like you’re drowning in into compartments with textiles without losing the spaciousness. Or dramatically improve poor acoustics without having to apply ugly standard acoustic panels to the wall or ceiling. With textile you give a room a nice softness and tactility at the same time.”
“I enjoy working with designers, interior architects and architects. Over the years I have assembled a database of experiments. Based on the problem or question, we draw on that knowledge and see what happens when we develop it further. It’s through these collaborations that new ideas arise, for example the shredding of company uniforms to make a new material to apply in a product. Ultimately, this can also result in a standard product in-house or with a manufacturer. It’s nice to be able to apply a beautiful textile product to more than one place.”